The Promise 12A
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Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle between Michael (Oscar Isaac), a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), and Chris (Christian Bale) - a renowned American journalist based in Paris.
For such a serious subject with such far-reaching implications, it's almost ironic that The Promise - one of the most mainstream films made about the Armenian Genocide - will most likely be remembered for the fact that it received 86,000 negative ratings on IMDb before the film was even released in cinemas. It's worth pointing out that denying the Armenian Genocide is illegal in France, Slovakia, Switzerland, Greece and Cyprus - but not Turkey, where most of The Promise is set.
The film opens in a rural village where we see Oscar Isaac attending to his people as an apothecary, with the hope that he'll be able to move to Constantinople to attend the Imperial Medical Academy and become a fully-fledged doctor. We're introduced to a range of characters, including Charlotte Le Bon's Ana, a fellow Armenian, who is teaching Isaac's wealthy cousins at their beautiful home, and Christian Bale's intrepid American journalist. For the most part, the story beats aren't particularly surprising - Isaac's character is betrothed to another, he falls in love with Le Bon, he and Bale fall out - but the chaos going outside their love triangle is the central focus of the film.
Director Terry George knows how to work in a huge canvass and still make it feel personable and understandable, but by boiling it down to a love story somehow blunts the film's edge. There's almost a TV movie quality to it that's hard to shake, even as the film wheels it way through the outright horrors perpetrated by the Ottomans. The pacing, which at times feels frenetic, doesn't allow you to stop and take in the enormity of what's happening and doesn't allow us to connect with the characters in a meaningful way. For the most part, the screenplay keeps the different threads separate and when they come together, it doesn't feel hackneyed or unnecessary.
Oscar Isaac acts as the moral centre of the film, but there's no chemistry or spark between him and Le Bon. We're supposed to believe that he's madly in love with her, but there's nothing on the screen to suggest it. Bale, for the most part, acts more as exposition than a real, moving character in the piece, but nevertheless performs his duties admirably. The supporting cast of Marwan Kenzari, Tom Hollander and Shohreh Aghdashloo fill out their roles reasonably well, but again the film's more concerned with moving the characters around than actually giving them a chance to develop and allowing the audience to get to know them.
As mentioned, Terry George's use of scale and place works for the film and together with Gabriel Yared's score, it really does try to make into a splashy war-romance in the vein of The English Patient. It's only when you compare The Promise to the likes of The English Patient or A Very Long Engagement that you see it falls short. While it's a serious subject that deserves to be told, it's a shame that it's framed and presented in such a way that makes it feel more like a TV movie than anything else.
Review by Brian Lloyd | 14:44 | Wednesday 26th April 2017 | Movie Review